Adelaide United coach Josep Gombau revealed on Monday that his team will be switching from their 4-3-3 formation to a new 3-4-3 shape from next season.
“It is something that is my next step for next season, to play this 3-4-3 that is part of the style,” Gombau said during a press conference following training on Monday.
He also believed that there was not a significant contrast between the two formations, adding:
“It’s not a big difference to play 4-3-3 than 3-4-3 because a lot of time when he have the ball we play with three at the back. Because the right back or left back goes up and we are three.”
In March the Spaniard said he and his staff were refraining from teaching the players any new tactical variations in attempt to allow the players to focus on the tasks at hand and the upcoming finals series.
“We stopped all the process of learning, new knowledge,” Gombau said before the 3-1 home win over Sydney FC in round 24. Gombau says that his team will play with a similar style, but in a new shape next season.
Well, not completely new. United flirted with a back three in pre-season as Osama Malik played as a libero, moving forward when in possession and dropping deeper without the ball.
The role seems tailor made for Malik, not quite a centre back or defensive midfielder. He can roam in this role and push forward and use his ability on the ball to launch attacks from deep.
There are question marks over one of the other, more traditional centre back positions. Jon McKain is off contract but expected to remain with the Reds, however fellow central defender Nigel Boogaard’s future is less certain. The 27-year-old has yet to be offered a new deal but the switch to three at the back could mean he is retained beyond the current season.
If Boogaard does depart it could mean Jordan Elsey is given more game time at centre back. The 20-year-old has made ten appearances this season but only the one start.
There is also the possibility of Michael Marrone featuring in the back three next season when he recovers from his unfortunate leg fracture, although the versatile Marrone could also fill the wingback spot on the right.
Ben Warland and Mark Ochieng also arrive next season from the Australian Institute of Sport and although they are likely to spend the majority of their first season as United players in the National Youth League, they are signings that seem to fit Gombau’s preferred new formation.
“Ben is a tall left sided central defender with good technique and understanding of his role, Mark is a strong, quick and aggressive right sided player who can play as a right back or right winger,” Adelaide United football manager Michael Petrillo said in September last year when the signings were announced.
While there are options across the backline and the right wingback position, the Reds face a left-sided conundrum next season. Michael Zullo’s loan spell from Eredivisie club FC Utrecht is expiring and it is unlikely he will be a Red next season. Combined with club legend Cassio’s fitness issues and it means Adelaide lack a natural fit for the left wingback spot next season.
Tarek Elrich has played at left back numerous times throughout the season when Zullo has been absent or utilised higher up the pitch, but it remains to be seen whether Gombau would be comfortable heading into the season with Elrich as the first choice left back. Expect United to enter the market for a left-sided player in the offseason.
The centre of midfield is where the majority of games are won and lost and Adelaide have enjoyed a man advantage in the middle of the park at times this season, often to devastating effect.
Wellington Phoenix were thrashed at Coopers Stadium because their midfield duo couldn’t keep up with United’s trio. Will a two man midfield be able to dominate the game so effectively?
It might not matter if Gombau’s side move the ball quickly from midfield to the flanks, where they will enjoy a numerical advantage.
The benefit of the 3-4-3 is to push the opposing side’s wingers back as the fullbacks are outnumbered. United could be less susceptible to quick counter attacks as opposition players may well be too deep to hurt the Reds.
Perhaps the most confusing and interchangeable area of the pitch in a 3-4-3 is the front line. Will the forwards be deployed as they are now: a straight three with two wingers and a focal point? Will he play two up top with Sergio Cirio withdrawn, or two men in behind Bruce Djite leading the line?